Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Interview with Scott Reeder
"Primarily a painter, Scott Reeder moved to Milwaukee via Chicago and Los Angeles to start ZeroTV, an interactive website. His paintings and installations with ghost-like figures are intended to be spoofs of art-world conventions. His fabrication of everyday objects are intended to blur the boundaries between art and craft, design and Minimalist sculpture". - Art in America, 2002
In addition to making work as an individual artist, Scott Reeder has also been invested in a curatorial practice that has allowed him to challenge those same art world conventions in an even more direct way. His Milwaukee gallery, The General Store, is a space he runs with his brother Tyson. There they take chances on young artists who are taking chances in their work. At The General Store failure is an option. Failure should always be an option for an artist.
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat". - Theodore Roosevelt. From a speech given in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1910
"The General Store site, in its process of creation and then exchange, loosely and humorously re-examines the system of commerce that is intrinsic to the art market. Along with other collaborative art movements like Paper Rad, the Royal Art Lodge, Dearraindrop, and LTTR, The General Store formed to expand the current model of galleries and to create their own funky, disposable, political, proto-psychedelic art, instead of just focusing on work that is reassuring and sells".
- Katie Geha, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2006. Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University
Lisa Majer: The General Store, by name alone, connotes 'small-town, middle america'. Can you talk about where you grew up and how that has had an influence on aesthetic/conceptual developments in your work as an individual artist? Has it also influenced your curatorial practices?
Scott Reeder: I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While it's true that it's technically in the Midwest, it's still a pretty progressive town, mostly because of the University of Michigan. Mike Kelley, Madonna, Andrew WK and Iggy Pop all grew up there. But it's still not New York or LA so you always feel a bit outside of the cultural loop.
That feeling of being a little bit outside of things has always been important to my work and my curatorial projects. In the Midwest there’s a lot of value put on common sense and everything always being practical and useful. I don't know if it's because of the influence of agriculture or it goes back to our puritanical roots but this "down to earth" point of view definitely runs counter to most of what the art world is about; where everything is glamorous, decadent, theoretical, edgy, and ridiculously expensive. While all these things sound a lot more exciting and interesting then being "down to earth", there's a part of me that's always a little bit suspicious of what's going on on the coasts and the well-oiled machine that
the art world has become. So I'm most interested in work that try’s to somehow throw a wrench into that machine.
Granted, if you are participating in the art world machine in any
substantial way the wrenches that you throw have little chance of doing any
real damage, the best you can hope for is a temporary shut down and a mild
re-calibration. What I want to do with my work and curatorial projects is
cause this kind of temporary disruption and hopefully broaden the definition
of what art can be and also broaden the audience of who's looking at it.
David Robbins, an artist and writer who lives in Milwaukee and shows in NY has written a lot about these very same questions. He talks about the east coast still being very tied to European ideas of hierarchy and social class and he sees the Midwest as being much more open and democratic and a kind of blank slate for experimentation. He also talks about the blurring of art and entertainment and he’s especially interested in gestures that can’t be easily classified as either. To me this seems like a really interesting place to be located and it makes a special kind of sense in the Midwest where you’re literally stuck in the middle between two things- the ephemeral, a-historic glitz of Hollywood and the more stodgy, scholarly, Eurocentric traditions of New York and the east.
LM: What is the mission of the General Store?
SR: I think one part of the he mission of the General Store would be to act as a bridge between the “blank slate“ of the Midwest and places like New York and Europe that have longer and more significant art histories. We’re interested in how the two worlds meet, the uninformed rawness and strangness of Milwaukee vs. the informed polish and seriousness of the art world centers. We’re also interested in directing traffic in the other direction by promoting Midwestern artists in other cities and countries. So far we’ve had pretty good luck with all our projects- no one has ever turned us down for a show. Partially I think because from the outside Milwaukee sounds kind of intriguing and exotic, but also I think artists are interested in having a space to experiment. Usually artists will try something in Milwaukee that
they wouldn’t try in a more high profile venue. So if it works out great they learn something, if it doesn’t, who cares not many people will ever see it anyway. I think the outside curatorial projects function in the same way - they provides a place for artists to experiment and invent and step outside of their brand name at least temporarily. As artists we’re all asked to come up with an identity and a consistent product and really stick with it for life. I think something like the 4 Color Pen show or Drunk vs. Stoned gives artists a chance to redefine that identity or product. One interesting thing about the group shows is that at least early on gallerists were reluctant to let their artists participate because the exhibitions didn’t sound immediately prestigious or didn’t sound like they would make them any
money. But artists always wanted to participate because it gave them a chance to try something new and all their friends are doing it. The suspicion on the part of gallerists though has changed as the shows have become more visible and critically acclaimed.
LM: Do you think it is important that artists make deliberate choices to produce work that does not easily feed into the commercial art market?
SR: I think it’s hard enough to be an artist without the added pressure of
intentionally making work that will not sell under any circumstances. Unless you are going to move to an island and start a subsistence community that only trades using the barter system, capitalism will always affect your art one way or another. Whether it’s the donor from McDonald Douglas that funds your artists grant from the not for profit agency, or the money for your installation in the museum wing that was also donated by the same corporation, money and art are always closely connected and always have been (see the Medici family, or the Catholic Church or the history of Greece,)It’s up to the individual artist to decide what makes sense for them, but
for me this has always seemed like the kind of question that people mainly like to ask when they’re in school. If you don’t make your money from your art, you’ll have to make it some other way and that will have political implications too. I think it’s more important to worry about making art that’s original and interesting and is going to add something to the conversation, than whether or not it’s for sale.
LM: In your experience, what have the trade-offs been to living and working in the Midwest as an artist (as opposed to either of the coasts?) Is this an irrelevant question?
SR: Things happen much slower in the Midwest and it’s harder to make connections. I think the trick is to leave a lot. Make sure you see what’s going on in other places and meet as many people as possible. But with the internet and FedEx it’s definitely a little easier than it used to be to stay connected. The galleries, collectors, curators and critics are all concentrated in other places, but I don’t think that means you have to live there in order to impact those people. You just have to work a little harder to get noticed. One of the pros of not being in a major art world center is that there’s a little more room to develop your own ideas and not just be reactionary, plus it’s a lot cheaper. I think some evidence of this extra room for invention can be seen in a list of famous people from Wisconsin (where I live now). It’s even more remote than Ann Arbor and the list is cooler:
Frank Lloyd Wright
Georgia O Keefe
The Violent Femmes
Rod Serling (the Twilight zone)
Les Paul ( inventor of the electric guitar)
The Zucker Brothers (creators of movies Airplane and Naked Gun)
Shrinky Dinks (invented in Milwaukee)
the Typewriter (invented in Milwaukee- originally called the “The Literary
Piano” it was set up like a piano with black and white keys)